I’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating, because I see this meme absolutely everywhere. The notion that a person is capable of choosing how to feel. That one can just make the decision to be happy and, ta-da, it will magically be so. It makes some people feel better to say things like this, because it gives them a sense of having control over things… or a sense that they needn’t feel any remorse for the unkind things they do because “no one has the power to hurt you unless you let them.” What it is, actually, is a bunch of blatant victim blaming people pull out when they become uncomfortable with the suffering of others, and want it to just go away and stop bothering them. Human emotions are exceedingly complex, based on environment, stimulus, and above all, neurochemistry, which is a science the surface of which we have barely scratched. I will allow that there are sometimes choice points between a painful stimulus, and our reaction where (if we are fortunate enough to be in a healthy state of mind) we might be able to do damage control, and lessen the pain we will feel as a result. This is some major mind kung fu (call it Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or Rational-Emotive or whatever) that is certainly valuable stuff, but it’s hard as hell to get good at. In the meantime, the terrible depression I am suffering is NOT a FUCKING CHOICE I have made, thank you very much. I do every single damn thing they tell you to do to make it better. I fight it tooth and nail every day. Every time I hear someone say “well, it’s really up to you to decide to feel better” it makes me want to step in front of a bus. Whether you want to admit it or not, words have power, and as humans, we have an obligation to be mindful of what we say to each other.
And for the record, given the hard-wired drives, fears, and desires that our human condition mandates (and also given how predictable and universal so much human behavior seems, if you observe it across time and cultures) I am not even sure how much individual agency we really have in anything we do. I’m not saying that we never make choices, I just think that any given choice before us is drastically limited by countless circumstances that we are mostly not even fully aware of due to our very limited perspective.